Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arthur Erickson: 1924 – 2009

Museum of Glass, Tacoma, by Arthur Erickson (photo by Andrew Albertson)

One of the people that most influenced my core values regarding architecture and urban design – Arthur Erickson – died Wednesday at the age of 84.

As I mentioned in my March 28, 2009 blog post, Erickson was unquestionably Canada’s greatest architect of the 20th century. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was as important to modern architecture in Canada as his American contemporaries were collectively in the United States(1). I had the great fortune to have spent some time with the man at the height of his powers, working as a practicum student in the Vancouver office of Arthur Erickson Architects in 1979.

Years ago, Philip Johnson praised Erickson as one of the most talented architects in the world. However, Johnson wryly noted that Erickson’s fame was largely confined to Canada because he lived and worked “in a province of a province of the United States.”(2) Today, most American architects and students of architecture know little, if anything at all, about his design philosophy and influence. I predict that with his passing Erickson’s work will acquire a new audience as the importance of his legacy to architecture is remembered.

(1) I would number Gordon Bunshaft, Philip Johnson, Anthony Lumsden, Walter Netsch, Cesar Pelli, I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Paul Rudolph, and Minoru Yamasaki among Erickson’s American peers.

(2) Erickson’s practice and home life were centered in Vancouver, British Columbia. Up until recently, Canada’s political, cultural, and financial centers of power were primarily located in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. For many Canadians, British Columbia was an easily ignored and pleasant backwater, hence a “province of a province of the United States.”

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